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Interview with U.S. expert on Trump administration’s Asia policy

Interview with Victor Cha, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Korea Chair, by Takayoshi Goto in Washington


How will U.S. policy toward Japan and Asia change with President-elect Donald Trump talking about reviewing the Japan-U.S. alliance? We interviewed Victor Cha, former Director of Asian Affairs of the National Security Council who was involved with drafting the “Armitage-Nye Report” (2012) by Japan experts in the U.S.


Q: Do you think Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has attached a great deal of importance to this report?


Cha: Prime Minister Abe has declared that Japan wants to remain a first-class nation, as written in the report. He has implemented policies close to those recommended in the report. He succeeded in reaching an agreement with the ROK on interpretation of history (comfort women issue). The report has had a major influence on Japan’s vision of its future.


Q: Trump’s policies on Japan, such as his proposal to review the Japan-U.S. alliance, seem to deviate from the report.


Cha: Trump probably has very little knowledge of this report. He is talking about policy shifts, that “not everything will be the same.” Unlike President Obama, who was predictable, he will be unpredictable. Diplomacy is about finding a middle ground with other parties. He is approaching this with a businessman’s mindset and will be looking constantly for bargaining chips in negotiations with any country to pursue U.S. interests.


Q: Will the Trump administration listen to Mr. Armitage and other Japan experts?


Cha: Many of these experts signed the letter denouncing Trump. This is an abnormal situation. The transition team is not listening to these experts but they are approaching other Japan experts in the Washington area for advice. I don’t think they will be building an Asia policy from scratch.


Q: Do you think the new administration will really demand an increase in Japan’s share of the cost of stationing the U.S. forces, as Trump suggested?


Cha: The U.S. will hold negotiations with the ROK on the U.S. forces’ expenditures this year. The ROK will be a good indicator of whether there will be any serious demand to increase the share. With U.S. conflict with China in trade and security intensifying, the growing importance of the alliance relationships with Japan and the ROK will probably be a factor influencing the negotiations.


Q: How will Trump respond to China’s maritime advances in the South China Sea and elsewhere?


Cha: His teleconference with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen was a shrewd move by a businessman to convey the message: “Don’t think things are going to be the same as they were under previous administrations.” China is very nervous about this. Well, because he is unpredictable. Right now, China is trying to create a fait accompli (with its maritime advances) to secure the best position possible before the inauguration of the new U.S. administration, but it will probably take a wait-and-see approach after the inauguration.


Q: Trump is taking a tough stance on China on foreign exchange and trade policies.


Cha: He will probably deal sternly with the dumping of surplus steel products, for instance. For the very reason that U.S. economic relations with China are expected to be turbulent in the near future, it will need allies to form a united front with.

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